The 'Lateran' Obelisk (32.18 m), which stands outside the Palazzo Laterano, was the last Egyptian obelisk to be brought to Rome, and is the largest in the world. The obelisk was originally erected by the pharaoh Tuthmosis III (r. 1479-1425 BCE) outside the Temple of Amun in Karnak, where it stood for almost two thousand years.
Towards the end of the reign of the emperor Constantine I (r. 306-337), the obelisk was moved to the port of Alexandria, where it lay on the quay awaiting transport to the city of Constantinople, which the emperor had inaugurated as his new capital in May 330. However, the project was halted by the emperor’s death in 337.
At some point before 357 the emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361) completed the task, using a specially built ship manned by 300 oarsmen. The obelisk’s destination, however, was now Rome, where it was erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus. In 547 it is thought to have been toppled by the Goths.
In 1587 the obelisk was unearthed, broken into three pieces, at a depth of 8 metres. In the following year it was re-erected by Domenico Fontana outside the Palazzo Laterano, on the orders of Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-90). The obelisk is crowned with a cross and the pope's heraldic charges, namely a star, three mounts and four lions, each of which holds a pear in its right paw.
The base sports four inscriptions. The west face reads: FL CONSTANTINVS / MAXIMVS AVG / CHRISTIANAE FIDEI / VINDEX ET ASSERTOR OBELISCVM / AB AEGYPTIO REGE / IMPVRO VOTO / SOLI DEDICATVM / SEDIB AVVLSVM SVIS / PER NILVM TRANSRERRI / ALEXANDRIAM IVSSIT / VT NOVAM ROMAM / AB SE RVNC CONDITAM / EO DECORARET / MONVMENTO (Flavius Constantinus Maximus Augustus, champion and protector of the Christian faith, bade this obelisk, dedicated to the sun in unclean offering by the king of Egypt, to be wrenched from its foundations and transported down the Nile to Alexandria, that with such a monument he might adorn the new Rome, founded by him at that time).
East face: FL CONSTANTINVS AVG / CONSTANTINI AVG F / OBELISCVM A PATRE / LOCO SVO MOTVM / DIVQ ALEXANDRIAE / IACENTEM / TRECENTORVM REMIGVM / IMPOSITVM NAVI / MIRANDAE VASTITATIS / PER MARE TIBERIMQ / MAGNIS MOLIBVS / ROMAM CONVECTVM / IN CIRCO MAX / PONENDVM / S P Q R D D (Flavius Constantinus Augustus, son of Flavius Constantine, gifted to the Senate and People of Rome, and to be placed in the Circus Maximus, the obelisk moved from its site by his father, and long neglected at Alexandria, set aboard a three-hundred-oared ship of astonishing size, by great labours transported across the sea and up the Tiber to Rome).
South face: CONSTANTINVS / PER CRVCEM / VICTOR / A S SILVESTRO HIC / BAPTIZATVS / CRVCIS GLORIAM / PROPAGAVIT (Constantine, through the Cross victorius, baptised in this place by Saint Silvester, propagated the glory of the Cross).
North face: SIXTVS V PONT MAX / OBELISCVM HVNC / SPECIE EXIMIA / TEMPORVM CALAMITATE / FRACTVM CIRCI MAX / RVINIS HVMO LIMOQ / ALTE DEMERSVM MVLTA / IMPENSA EXTRAXIT / HVNC IN LOCVM MAGNO / LABORE TRANSTVLIT / FORMAEQ PRISTINAE / ACCVRATE RESTITVTVM / CRVXI INVICTISSIMAE / DICAVIT / A M D LXXXVIII PONT IIII (Sixtus V, Pontifex Maximus, at great expense, withdrew from the ruins of the Circus Maximus this obelisk of exceptional beauty, broken in the tragedy of the times, sunk deep in earth and mud, by great labour transported it to this place and, once it had been restored to its former beauty, dedicated it to the most invincible Cross, in the year 1588, the fourth of his pontificate).